As a child, my cousin James had a reputation for taking things apart. I recall one Christmas when he dismantled down to the wiring every gift he was given. Remote-control cars? Give him 20 minutes, and there’d be nothing left but a pile of tiny screws, little motors, and the tears of his mother who probably should have known better than to give him such an expensive present.

But the extraordinary thing is, he learned to put them back together again, and it didn’t surprise any of us when he became one of those people who could rebuild or fix anything as an adult.

Taking things apart and figuring out why they work is probably one of the best ways to learn something, and while I don’t recommend it with your cameras since there’s a certain amount of trial and error involved, it’s probably the most powerful way to learn to make photographs.

I was told that the best way to learn to make photographs is to make a lot of them, and that’s impossible to argue with. But I made thousands of photographs for years before they became good photographs. One of the things that turned it around for me was a simple exercise. Now a habit, it’s simple, can be done anywhere, and will change the way you look at—and make—photographs.

Take them apart. Layer by layer, strip them down. And as you do, ask yourself this one big question (smaller questions to follow):

What makes the image work?

It’s simple reverse engineering (though not always easy). Begin by just looking at an image for a bit. Let your eyes wander the frame. Be aware of what you think or feel. Are there hidden surprises the longer you look? Most images can’t be fully enjoyed with the kind of quick glance we give them. Where does your eye go? What’s it about?

Now ask what makes it work. Another way to put it might be this: What decisions did the photographer make that lead to it looking like this? Did the shutter speed contribute anything to the image? What about the chosen aperture or where the focus was placed? Did the overall choice of exposure, either brighter or darker, make the image feel a certain way? Where was the camera when the image was made? Does that contribute something? Can you tell which kind of focal length was used? What does that choice add to the image?

Just a few simple questions, but while so many of us aren’t out making photographs as much as we used to, right now is the perfect time to be asking them. And the more deeply you go with it, the more you’ll learn. Now ask why: Why did the photographer make those choices and not others? Sometimes they won’t matter; sometimes it’s one big decision that makes the image work. Other times it’s a combination of choices without which the photograph would fall apart.

And you can do this with darkroom work too, though there is a bit more guesswork involved. What do you think the photographer might have chosen to do with brightness or contrast? Is it bright or dark? High contrast or low? What about saturation or the way the colours work? If it’s black and white, why do you think that decision was made? Do you think it would be as powerful in colour? Where does your eye go in the frame?

I want to try an interactive exercise with you, and there’s a $400 prize on the line.

I’m going to show you one of my photographs, and for the darkroom portion, I’ll make it easier by showing you what my RAW file looks like. You can choose to do the exercise on your own, or you can play along with the rest of us in the comments below, where you can leave your answers and look at the answers of others.

I’ll play as well, and on Wednesday, I’ll post a link to a video of me unpacking the image from start to finish. And to give you a little motivation, I’ll put a prize on the line and draw the name of one person who plays along to give it to. I’ll tell you more about that on Wednesday.

Here’s that image, both before and after:

This is the unadjusted RAW file. (BEFORE)


This is the final adjusted image. (AFTER)

So, what makes this image work?

What decisions both in-camera and in the digital darkroom do you think I made? Guesses are fine. But for each of them, because there’s no magic in specific shutter speeds or focal lengths, the big question remains: Why did I choose that?

What effect does it have in the image? How would the image be different if I’d made a different choice about shutter speed or aperture, focal length, or my point of view (where I put the camera)? What if I’d used the light differently? What about the darkroom? Can you tell which overall changes I made? Don’t worry about how for now. Is it brighter? More contrast? Saturation? And if so, did I change the saturation everywhere? What about dodging and burning, can you see how I might have gently nudged your eye away from some elements in order to draw it toward others?

I’m going somewhere with this, and on Wednesday, I’ll send you that video I promised and talk more about how this approach can forever change your photography as it has done for me. For now, take a look at the images, and if you want to play along, leave your own thoughts and answers to these questions in the comments below. The winner will be chosen randomly and it’s just for fun, but the prize is a good one—it’s worth about $350. Just be sure to reply before Wednesday morning because that’s when I’ll announce the winner and the prize.

So, what do you think makes this image work? Leave your comments below, and I’ll draw the name of one person who will win a free enrollment for my ImageWork course. The best thing about all this is there are no secrets. Every image in the world is there to be unpacked and learned from, and I want to teach you how to do that because if you can learn to do it with the photographs of others, you can learn to make those decisions and understand the effect of them when you’re holding your camera and making your own photographs.

See you on Wednesday!

For the Love of the Photograph,
David

Comments

  1. Honestly, I don’t love the shot and I don’t think it works.

    I find the hand, picking up the coffee distracting. It fights with the barista for attention in the picture, it makes me question what the subject is. Likewise, the editing makes it look like a fake HDR shot, too over saturated and too much contrast for my liking.

    Sorry, just not a fan of this shot.

  2. What makes it work: The way you framed some of the out-of-focus equipment on the left side keeps a fairly cluttered image from being overwhelming. The hand picking up the coffee points to the subject. And in post, a boost in saturation, clarity, and brightness makes it more lively. I do think you may have lightened up the subject’s face a little. There is so much to look at here–I love the way the towel is draped over the espresso machine. And the orange and blue tones make this very cinematic.

    I have to thank you for this exercise–seeing how harshly people criticize your work, when I have so much respect for it, makes me feel better about my own! Art is so very subjective. And now — I hope to make it to Istanbul one day to try what looks like some coffee worth traveling for.

  3. David – I hope you saw my email about this photo. I read a few but I don’t have time to read all the above comments. Can hardly believe that many people liked that image – I am certainly in the minority but not unhappy about it.

  4. I think you’ve taken this image from a low viewpoint with a longer lens. The original RAW image looks rather flat of course & I think you’ve increased the exposure, saturation & contrast or used curves to give it more oomph.

    I feel the hand delivering the coffee looks a bit staged, but it adds a great deal to the effectiveness of the image, so I’m going with it. Because of the focus area in the middle, my eye moves up and into the image from the coffee cup to the man’s face & I see most of the story in that journey. The coffee maker has a lot of character in his face & so you can spend some time checking it out. Then you notice his gaze directed down to the coffee pot he is filling, which brings your eyes back down to their starting point on the coffee cup. The out-of-focus bottles or cups on the left hand side help to keep your attention in the centre of the image.

    If I were to make a suggestion for improving the image, I would suggest toning back the coffee machine a little. The side panels of the coffee machine facing us are very strong & overpower the man somewhat, because all the tones in his clothes & face & arms are more muted.

    A great shot in an exotic(?) location guiding us to appreciate everyday occurrences.

  5. I would say it was probably a very quick street shot you saw the barista and framed it up very quickly and there was plenty around him to do so.

    Looks like a boost in saturation and contrast and a little bit of bringing up the exposure on his face to make him more the centre of attention I just get the I would say it was probably a very quick street shot you saw the barista and framed it up very quickly and there was plenty around him to do so.

    Looks like a boost in saturation and contrast and a little bit of bringing up the exposure on his face to make him more the centre of attention

  6. My idea is that you were low on the counter, lower than sitting at the counter. It is a POV from some one sitting at a table further from the counter. If it’s the case you would have a long lens at leas 100 mm. Short depth of feels. Would it be possible to move to the right to have more of the right arm of the barista without cutting the coffee pot? Maybe cropping at the left one of the water pipe. The general action is interesting with the hand picking up the cup of coffee and the barista in action.
    For the editing seems to be a simple curve to increase the contrast. The effect is good on the barista head but it seems to have an impact on the coffee machine and over saturate It.
    Thank you
    Yves

  7. I think you shot with a wider focal length. You kept the bottles off to the left to help frame the shot. You exposed for the highlights. You captured the moment when the arm was extended and centered in the image. Beautiful line.
    In the DD you added contrast maybe did a little dodge and burn to draw attention to the older gentleman and the hand holding the coffee in the picture . I feel like the light was from above or off the left which also brought out with your edit. Darkening maybe with a grad filter on the all sides.

    1. This image is fantastic!, it puts, me at that Turkish coffee shop!, and I’m about to be passed the coffee my friend is holding while the barista makes the next cup.
      Composition is up close and personal, increases in saturation and grittiness brings it all together.

  8. I feel the things that make this image work are the angle and choice of composition…it leads your eye from the story happening with the hand and cup right up to the barista’s face. It’s kept there as your eye wanders through the image and circles back around by great framing, both with objects and focal plane. Circles are repeated throughout the image as a design element that makes the whole image cohesive, along with a jewel-toned color palette, enhanced through post-processing. Sheen, shimmer, steam and story just make me feel like I’m there!

  9. What a stunning photograph. After studying it, here are some observations:
    – aperture used effectively to take focus off non-essential objects (left side glass) while giving the photo a “closeness”
    – shutter speed used to stop action yet action is still evident with the arm pulling away on the right
    – POV is low for a unique perspective (e.g. not our normal eye level) making the “story” larger than life
    – the post processing that jumped out to me was a clearer, warmer feel with contrast. I’m sure there was more editing performed but that’s what caught my eye

    Thanks!!!

    1. I feel the things that make this image work are the angle and choice of composition…it leads your eye from the story happening with the hand and cup right up to the barista’s face. It’s kept there as your eye wanders through the image and circles back around by great framing, both with objects and focal plane. Circles are repeated throughout the image as a design element that makes the whole image cohesive, along with a jewel-toned color palette, enhanced through post-processing. Sheen, shimmer, steam and story just make me feel like I’m there!

  10. Dear David , although I’am a absolutely beginner, discovered my fascination / passion for photographie shortly ago and I still have to learn so much, but I’ll try to do the exercise!
    1. What makes this image work? I guess you were fascinated of the coffee making process / the flow / the flutent passage of preparation and consumption and also the concentration
    of the focused barman, who absolutely was in “the here and now”, an intimate moment. For sharing this moment you have chooses this point of view / this focus. Your intention not was to show us the atmosphere of the coffeehouse with the hustle and bustle of the guests, because the choosed image section is enough also to show this and to stir our own imagination.
    2. The image before – after:
    I think the changes you made in the darkroom are (as seen from me a a beginner):
    Scaling down of the brightness and the exposure, upgrading the contrast and a highercolour saturation.
    And because of the continuance of blurry area from the bottles on the left side and the brightness in the scene the eye of the viewer will guided to the middle of the image, to the process of coffemaking, the imminent consuming (the removing full cup ) and to the concentrated barman.

  11. This image works so well because there is so much to explore. It’s almost like a sneaky peek behind the counter to see the coffee being made. The eye is drawn to the barista via the bottles on the left, the customer’s hand on the right, and the equipment and towel in the middle. Then you realise that there are all sorts of bits & pieces behind the barista. The processed image is brighter, for sure, and I get the impression that this helps us to home in on the customer’s hand, and on the barista himself who, in the raw image, is slightly hidden by the foreground. A fascinating and enjoyable shot in which I saw more detail each time I looked.

  12. As a hobbyist photographer, my goals are (luckily) not clearly defined. I shoot what I like as best I can but in the Internet age, social media accounts are sometimes considered, so I ask myself if what I like will align with something that is pleasant to see to a viewer. In that way, is it marketable in the loosest sense?

    I often write stories that pop into my head to go along with the images I post on private FB groups. My stories might not be someone else’s stories, but I think that as photos move through whatever algorithm sorts things out, whatever makes a photo resonate to a viewer and stay near the top of the pile is fine by me, and that often is a crafted backstory to go along with a nice image.

    I’m drawn to your photography and this image in particular because it tells me a story and reminds me of something. Nostalgia, to paraphrase Don Draper, is delicate, but potent.

    Both the unedited RAW version and the brightened-up edited version work for me. Color over black and white definitely works in this instance. The brighter version might work better on a compeer screen, which begs for brightness. Prints, maybe not as much. The gentleman in the background making the coffee is an interesting character in the two-character play you’ve presented, and while I’m drawn to him (having been to an untold number of coffee shops and makers of strong, sweet coffee) what really nailed it for me was the delicacy and grace of the hand that is either picking or setting down the handless cup of coffee. Why? The Addams family.

    My favorite character on the old TV series was Thing T. Thing, more commonly called Thing, the skittering, pantomiming hand and wrist that lived in a box and would occasionally run around the house.

    As for the edited image and what I would change. Nothing. The composition is great and the subjects, both dynamic and static, all work together.

  13. So, what makes this image work? Well, to me it’s the following:

    1. It’s an interesting image first and foremost. My favorite kind, one that captures a “slice of life.” I could care less is I ever see another image of the Eiffel Tower. These so called “iconic images have been way overdone, in my opinion.

    2. The image is focused and lit perfectly, drawing attention to the important parts of it, the man’s face, the hand holding the cafe, and creating a pathway for the eye to follow from the hand to the man’s face.

    3. It doesn’t hurt that the man has such and interesting, weathered face and the hand is holding the cup with two fingers. The second adds a bit of tension. Also the barista in in the process of brewing an espresso, which adds actions.

    4. In the end all these things come together to create a vibrant image that captures the eye and holds it. Even though the scene is not uncommon, it creates a sense of “being there,” in the viewer.

    At least that’s my take on it. 😉

    1. There are a lot of wonderful things happening in this image. I think it works because of the following:

      – There are leading lines that bring your eye back into the frame – especially the arm picking up the small cup, but even the towel directs your eye
      – The use of repeating pattern with the plates and bowls
      – There are lots of “layers” of depth- it’s as if you are looking through or shooting through the kitchen area to see and focus on your subject
      – the colors of yellow and blue work well together
      – the image tells a story, and lets the viewer see a small slice of life
      -Added contrast and/or saturation make the colors and blacks pop

      I’m looking forward to learning more on Wednesday!

  14. The way the hand and cups lead into the picture of the man. The story is told and easy to see.the highlights lifted in the center and more contrast helps to draw you into the picture. I also like the little bit of blue on the edge of the picture

    1. The additional emphasis on the man through the use of additional brightness and texture draws your eye right to him. The deemphasis on the bottles on the left make them less distracting. Overall the shapes and patterns are complimentary and each adds to the strength of the other

  15. The RAW image contains already the full information, and power, of the photo: the “bartender”, preparing the coffee, and the final result (the cup), both caught in the action, and geometrically disposed one over the other, following a vertical line in the center of the frame. The dimensionality is provided by the not-focused bottles on the left and by the coffee machine, with its diagonal lines, breaking the vertical lines of the cup and the turkish pot, and the horizontal line of the arm. The defocused bottles in foreground bring the attention to the man preparing the coffee, and give depth to a picture which, without them, would be too flat.
    To get this, may be a wide angle lens with aperture (f/5.6??), focussed on the man and with still some depth to get the arm in focus. If the arm was moving, I assume something like faster than 1/60 had to be used, to avoid blurring.
    The central part of the image is representing a movement, and provides the action and movement (the raising cup, the vapour), which is then enhanced in the post production phase.

    In fact, the after-effects add texture and dimensionality and provide a bit of drama, improving the definition, the lighting and contrast. Simplicistically, it seems that some saturation + contrast and sharpening can provide it; personally, I tried with a conversion from the RGB to the LAB colorspace, then modifying the curves, A, B to increase the tones and colors, and lightness for contrast. Unsharp mask helps. A very soft Dragan effect.

    Greetings from Pisa, Antonio

  16. Firstly I love this image – it tells a wonderful story. The important elements ie the man making the coffee, the coffee machine and the hand reaching across the scene are all in focus. To me these are the important elements that make this image. My eye is drawn first to the man making the coffee, then to the brightness of the coffee machine and down to the hand holding the coffee cup. Without the hand holding the cup of coffee entering the photo, this image, to me, would not be as strong. I feel that I’m actually sitting in this little coffee shop enjoying a cup of coffee.

  17. Great exercise David. My comments: The image works because it is mostly in focus, it has great depth and in very interesting to us in the western world where such scenes are intriguing and , in a way, romantic, Casa Blanca-esque. The viewers eye is lead to the center of the scene, before moving around to the copper coffee brewer, the towel and all the other copper items, finally coming to reston the hand reaching the coffee.
    When photographing the image, you intentionally got close to the bells on the left so that they woulds be out of focus regardless of the aperture although I’m thinking your aperture was not too wide, maybe around f 8. You focused on the coffee chef so that he would be in focus and included the arm reaching for the coffee which provided a leading line pointing into the scene, slightly diagonal for a pleasing affect. The tray in front, the row of saucers and the bells on the left also show the depth of the scene. The final image has had selective sharpening applied to bring out the detail in the scene but not much more. Fun exercise David. John

  18. Truth be told It doesn’t “work” for me… I like the depth but hate the unattached arm reaching in. It also feels oversaturated to the point of feeling fake. Which to me implies the lighting was weak and had to be juked to try to make it work… for me a simple reflector at the time may have added a sufficient highlighting to the mans face to do him justice and white towel that becomes a light trap on top of the machine would have been better utilized as that reflective surface. Also this would be an example of where perhaps less would be more… moving in tighter would have been more compelling to examine the intensity in his face as he worked but still left more than enough context to fill the visual field.

  19. I don’t have a grasp of the technical terms for your digital editing. But I know what my eyes see! You brought light to the barista’s face and the machine, which centered the viewer’s focus on that part of the image. The shadows & creases of the barista’s face are more intense, and the color more saturated. The stunning effect makes all other aspects of the image secondary, comfortably crowded but not distracting. The hand delicately retrieving an espresso is also brightened (dodged?) but not to the extent that it claims center focus…

  20. Deja vu all over again. 🙂 Though, it looks like I didn’t reply before, so here goes.

    I have to agree with Tim Walter and David Womble – the arm gets in the way for me. People speak of it reaching in for the cup and I always see it as “I’m putting my hand out here and I’m going to drop this cup of espresso whenever you tell me to.” At least that’s how it reads to me. I think if the arm had been lower in the shot to where it felt like it’s framing the barista instead of crowding him, it might help. I would prefer a slightly less processed look, myself. And, while I like the look of the blurred objects front left, I feel like they occupy too much of the story without any real meaning. Not having meaning adds a little mystery (“what are they?”), but at the same time are a bit too distracting from the barista.

    Thanks!

  21. In camera decisions include a low POV to make the viewers feel they are perhaps sitting at the table watching their coffee be made. The depth gives enough information to understand the setting while allowing the near objects to blur and be less distracting. The timing of the arm reaching in provides some implied action.
    The processing choices increase the light and contrast of the man. The coffee machine has more texture and a warmer tone as does the hand reaching into the frame. The steam stands out more as do the glasses on the tray. Most of the changes were probably done with dodging and burning.
    Overall is a story of a cup of coffee from maker to server.

  22. As a whole, this photo is a complete story. You can see, smell, even hear what might have been going on in the scene when this was captured. Taken apart, there is no cohesiveness really. If it was only a photo of the barista, of the machine ( which is interesting in itself), of the server lifting the cup, while making nice pictures, they wouldn’t tell the story of what’s happening. Whether by luck or waiting for the precise moment, all the elements brought together make the image work.
    Because of the camera angle I assume that it was a patiently timed capture. The blurred foreground both direct focus and tame an otherwise chaotic scene. The slightly out of focus cup and hand tell me that it is not the main subject of the photo. By using the shutter speed that was chosen, it also has the affect of keeping things calm. If a slower shutter speed was used? It would seem like a more rushed or high-paced environment. Using post processing to bring out the barista helps even more to “highlight” him. As in the original, the machine was stealing the show since it was lighter. While a little too sharp and contrasty for my taste, overall it makes a pleasant image.
    Thanks for sharing!

  23. The photo has layers with something to be discovered in each. The bottles in the foreground, just out of focus lead your eye deeper. The arm draws your eye to the center and the man in the back. Then your eye goes to the details in the back of the shop. Everything is different — colors, textures.– but the layers keep the scene from being chaotic and make it a journey.

  24. What works for me is the photo as a whole is a “slice of life” and it takes me to travels that I sorely miss right now. You clearly were focusing on the barista and you chose to include the arm of the server. I’m conflicted on that but it does suggest action without showing movement. I might have slowed the shutter speed to give the arm some movement. I find the post processing a bit overdone, but that is a personal preference. I don’t particularly like the HDR effect. I think the blurred bottles are a bit distracting, but I like their color. I like the original color of the coffee maker and would have left it toned down. I believe the increase in contrast on the barista very effective. I personally would focus on the barista’s face and selectively increase the contrast and saturation on him alone.

  25. It’s a great scene. Good action; a busy moment well captured; love the colors and tones; the old(er) man is handsome, exotic and picturesque; and I get the feel of a marketplace, I can almost smell it and hear it. But for me, the coffee thief is a photo bomb. It’s an amputated arm invading our space and interrupting the story, which is a lifelong barista passionately working his craft. With it I’m not really sure what the story is. It violates one of your own bedrock principles by adding to the story unnecessary complexity best saved for another chapter.

    But that’s just me. 😉

  26. While there were certainly various digital darkroom decisions made to “unflatten” the RAW image (e.g. adding clarity and saturation to introduce more texture and contrast), what really makes the image work for me (and therefore provides something teachable that I can apply to my own photography) is the composition. In particular:

    – Being slightly below eye level with the barista, establishing the view of a potential customer waiting for their coffee.

    – The blurred bottles in the foreground that not only provide a frame that keeps the eye directed towards the center of the image, but also adds to the setting. The impression is of a relatively small space and these bottles reinforce that…this isn’t an expansive modern coffee shop but rather a somewhat cramped space where a lot is happening.

    – The timing of the barista preparing a beverage while the hand of a server (or customer) is reaching for an already prepared cup, with another finished cup directly behind the hand. This implies perpetual activity…new orders coming in as finished drinks are consumed.

    – The aperture is wide enough to capture the details in the center of the frame while allowing the less important details (e.g. the bottles) to blur.

    – The shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the motion of the barista and capture some of the steam, but not quite fast enough to allow some motion in the hand grabbing the cup.

  27. This is a storytelling image of a barista serving up espresso from the kitchen in a restaurant or coffee shop. Selective focus (i.e. blurred foreground and softened background) works really well in this image to draw our eye directly to the barista and espresso machine. Details in the barista and coffee machine were enhanced in post probably by increasing clarity, contrast and saturation. Enhanced saturation and contrast have added interest as well as helping to focus our attention on the main subject. The level camera angle brings us on the same plane as the main subjects in the image, making us relate directly to the barista and his machine. Increasing the shutter speed freezes the motion and brings out details in the smoke that would otherwise go relatively unnoticed. The server’s hand in the picture adds to the story that the barista is intent on keeping up with the orders coming in.

  28. What I like about this image is the framing of the decisive moment of the hand grabbing the cup, and the fact that it is just below the Turkish pot. The arms creating a horizontal line the points to this and the mans gaze looks to the pot he is holding—all lines lead to or frame this part of the photo—very nice storytelling. I also like the depth of field with the bottles on the left out of focus—this adds a lot more emphasis on the focal point. I can see that you brought out the saturation of the golden hues in the photo and brought out the contrast to further emphasize the story.

  29. I viewed the “after” image with a novice photography eye – because that is what I am.
    1. The focus is the elderly man. His expression seems to show he has been doing what he’s doing for the last 50 years; patient, attentive, perhaps thinking of something else.
    2. The sharp golden hue of the coffee maker pairs nicely with the opposite-spaced blurred blue glass, with a smidgen of gold drops of light.
    3. The hand reaching for the coffee in the middle of the image and space conveys movement, action, a story.
    4. The orderly and not-so-orderly objects provide interest but not too much interest, as well as showing this is a setting that is lived in, used, inviting.
    Thank you – this was fun!

  30. I may be the odd one out, but this photo only sort of works for me. But first a thank you; I enjoy your work, especially the humanitarian work, and learn, even when I don’t entirely agree. I would love to take one of your workshops sometime.

    I see two possible stories here. In one, the barista is focused on his craft to the point of ignoring both the hand taking the cup and the photographer. In the second, I see a hand taking a cup probably implying the enjoyment of the barista’s work. The visual weight (size) of the arm and closeness to the camera gives the second story equal or more weight than the first. I prefer clear, simple message, and I prefer the first story. This might have been better supported with several cups ready to be enjoyed instead of a hand taking a cup, but that might not have been possible. Since we are stuck with the hand, I would probably crop the arm. I also find the machine distracting, especially in the final image. The presentation of the barista involves brightening and sharpening to draw my eye to his face, which emphasizes his concentration and supports story #1. However, the machine gets the same treatment and combined with the high clarity and saturation, it competes with, and distracts from, the barista. It is an important part of the craft and environment and needs to be there, but I would prefer it not to be so sharp and bright that it pulls my eye from the barista. And finally, the bottles in the left foreground are a distraction. They are close to the viewer, but out of focus and bright with bright highlights. While they are part of the environment, they are not part of the craft, and it might have been stronger to position the camera so they were not part of the scene. But since they are, I would tend to crop as much as possible.

    Since we can’t recompose and re-shoot the image, I would crop to eliminate as much of the bottles and the arm as possible. That might force us to use a square crop, which may not be ideal but can work, I think. And I would reduce the sharpness/clarity of the machine so that it supports the barista’s craft instead of dominating it.

  31. What works for me is the importance of ‘decisive-moment’ in narrating a story through an image. It is a beautifully narrated story of a Turkish barista & his activities of daily life with a hint of interaction with customers. What surprised me are the details – the concentration of the coffee maker, his facial expression with wrinkles (life experience), neatly done hair, steam from hot water, and the exquisite works on the cabinet. As well, the customer’s hand to get the cup of coffee just of the table adds to the drama. My guess is that to make this image, the artist/photographer used a normal to moderately wide angle (either a 50mm or 35mm) lens to bring out the spaces amongst the various elements & a wide aperture to bring attention to the barista. Also, the barista is framed between the out of focus elements on the left and the cabinet on the right, while the two round stainless steel trays with the cup (in customer’s hand) forms a leading line to the barista. The camera is held at eye level and slightly to the left to further accentuate the barista. A high shutter speed is used to freeze motion (customer’s hand, water, & rising steam). The ambient side light is from the top left side. The highlight detail on towel on top of the cabinet is well preserved. In post production, the maker has increased sharpness, tone, and contrast to make the image pop up. If I may ‘genre-fy’ this image, I would say this could fall into many different genres, such as an environment portrait, a street photography, travel photography, or part of a photo documentary.

  32. Framing and light make the photograph work. The bottles and expresso machine frame the barista and the hand picking up the expresso cup. The light flows from left to right and you added clarity and vibrancy to those objects that receive the light which adds to the flow of one’s eye to the image. There is slight motion in the hand which makes the picture more intriguing.

    1. The lighting is what makes this image work. Without it, it would be dull. Having the right lighting makes this photo look like a Norman Rockwell painting 👍

  33. at first glance , the image appears to be cluttered , but taken as a whole, the focus on the barista and the hand of the customer draws you to the key points and the rest is out of focus, yet the copper and bronze out of focus parts enhances the face of the older gentleman , so normally I don’t like cluttered images, yet David has made it work here

  34. Pour moi cette photo fonctionne car elle raconte une histoire facile à lire.
    Nous avons un avant plan à gauche flou au centre dans le premier tiers nous avons un client dont le bras en légère diagonale tient une tasse de café turc (je pense) qui doit être chaude .Cette tasse conduit notre oeil vers le Barman qui prépare ces fameux cafés ,Il est au centre ,c’est lui le sujet principal.Nous sommes vraiment dans l’ambiance .Il ne manque que l’odeur mais notre cerveau compense .L’arrière plan nous montre l’installation .Le post traitement enlève le léger voile. Grâce au contraste .nous voyons mieux les détails du barman.Les couleurs sont plus vives rappelant le pays .Les couleurs sont chaudes ;c’est peut être en fin d’après midi
    Merci pour ce travail
    Excusez moi mon anglais n’est pas assez bon pour écrire dans la langue

  35. What makes this image works is that it tells a story. The out of focus foreground elements, including the hand with the cup, make up the context of the barista. Personally, I think the image was already good in the camera and the processing make it more attractive (more contrast, saturation, clarity, etc) but in my opinion this is a case where the composition is much more important than the editing.

    1. I love the depth of this photograph. You have incorporated the ‘rule of thirds” in the depth of the photo as a way of making the photo more 3-dimensional. There is the out of focus bottles in the foreground on the left, the espresso cup in the center/middle, and the barista and the tools of his craft in the background. The low and close angle for your POV almost makes it a “child’s eye view” of the scene. The increased saturation and vibrance and contrast on everything in the yellow/gold color range makes it feel even more dramatic, with the light seeming to bounce back off the image right into my child-like eyes.

  36. Thank you for this exercise, it was interesting to do.

    What makes this image work is the focus on the barista, although you have broken the rule of thirds by placing him centrally, the image I feel is broken into thirds, as you have the bottles on the left and the coffee machine on the right, therefore framing the man in the middle. The way the barista has his head angled down helps to lead you to his hands and what he is doing. The arm coming in from the right also draws your eye to the cup, which in turn returns you to the coffee being made and the baristas hands.
    By brightening the image, and I really don’t know how you did that (still learning editing, so my skills are not very good yet!) you have highlighted the baristas face, showing his wrinkles and the concentration he has on the job in hand, which gives him much more character. I think you will have used a faster shutter speed to freeze motion in the the steam rising and an movement of the arm.
    Overall, I think the image is a great story being told, a man at work and a loved cup of coffee,.

  37. Concentrating baristas on brewing coffee. A customer’s hand carefully holding a hot cup. Lots of plates and cups stacked neatly, plus a towel placed casually.
    And of course the shift to warm colours, highlighting the barista and the customer’s hand, including contrast.
    All of this makes this image work.

  38. I just like the hand reaching in. It feels like I’m that person and I’m about to enjoy the fruits of love of the carefully prepared coffee from a master craftsman who quietly dominates, but remains in the background.
    I’m involved.

  39. There are so many things that work.. Multiple layers and multiple different pictures within different frames leading to the focus of interest on the barista. Circles repeat from foreground to background. From the shinny partial pan in foreground to the round bottles behind the barista. The hand picking up the cup even makes a circle with his hand to lift the cup then eye moves to the cup the barista is pouring in separated from the mid-ground. The extended arm frames the stacked dishes as well as acting as center point that keeps my eye moving towards the barista, the foreground glass and the coffee machine frames the barista. Action from the pour to retrieving a cup. Darkroom, sharpening to bring out details and notably to me the wrinkles on the baristas face adding character. Darkening shadows and bringing the steam out. Increase in color concentration that brings out the copper in the machine as well as reflected copper colored light on the foreground L glass. Lovely story told by a gorgeous image.

  40. Golden hour glow, fixes the eye on the warm tones, composition tells the story of exactly what’s going on. Brilliantly beautiful.

  41. I think the picture is good because it’s clear who the subject is and there is a good path for the viewers eye to reach the subject. It’s not so cluttered as to be distracting. And the arm helps lead the eye. It also provides some mystery. Who is this?

    Of course the second version is hugely over processed. The picture might also look a lot better in black in white.

    1. For me the interest is in the barista’s face/body framed between bottles and the coffee machine -there is avery clear story of a man’s occupation. The selective focus helps show what was of importance to the photographer and the viewer. The colours are all there in the first photo and were empathised in the second photo giving more pop. Not sure if this was done with a blend or brightness /contrast. A fast shutter to catch the rising steam and prevent any movement in arm holding the tiny cup which its self has interest. To me it is a scene to which many viewers can relate – the favourite coffee place. The man’s concentration and ease suggest he has been doing this for a long time, it is a portrait of a man in his environment

      1. For me, the first thing I see is the barrister, nicely framed between the bottles and the espresso machine. Then I see the arm with a cup in a diagonal, which kind of brings me back to the barrister. The main difference between the before and after picture (besides the saturation of the colour) is the isolation of the barrister.

  42. Things that make it work in my mind: The gesture of the hand caught at just the right moment; not including the patron’s face, it makes the focus more on the barista or the process of making coffee. I like the choice of color because I think the skintone also makes the hand pop and might not in black and white without DB work. I like the framing of the barista by the bottles on the left, his machine on the right, and the arm along the bottom. I think the arm/hand/fingers also lead the eye nicely to the barista and his action of making a drink.

  43. I am drawn first to the man’s face, then the hand reaching in, and then the bottles on the left. These three points of interest form a triangle. I believe you increased clarity, contrast, saturation, and lightened the man’s face and the arm. Very interesting photo

  44. Essentially you have “lifted” the man making the coffee and the hand holding the coffee from the other elements in the image. The man and the hand and the tray of glasses connecting them have had their highlights raised and shadows darkened which has increased the contrast. The saturation and vibrance has been increased across the whole image. The area behind the man has less bokeh while the glass jar in the left foreground has more bokeh (not sure how you do this).

  45. The composition does not work for me really. I find the bottles , or whatever they are, on the left side of the picture to be very distracting. There is already a lot happening in the picture and this area makes it quite confusing.
    I would have cropped them out and done a crop on the right side to balance out the composition. On the right I would crop straight down so that only the dark part of the sleeve is visible on that side of the picture..

    1. What makes this image work?
      (FYI, I find the image VERY busy but It does work for me.)

      Subject: The busy nature of the photo and lots of chaotic eye candy does give the sense of the scene and surroundings. I like how the center of the photo IS the main subject = barista and the had reaching for the coffee.

      Composition: Although breaking the traditional 3rds rule, the subjects in the center work well with all the other things surrounding it. There are some very strong lines and angles = arm reaching in, hand reaching down, diagonal flow of the barista and plates, and 2 very vertical upright forms with the bokehed bottles and vibrant drawers.

      Mood and lighting: Nice enhancements of the center hand and vertical boxes and barista. Like the warmer tones complementing the green blue bottles and darker surroundings.

      Technical: guessing this is a 40mm lens? Slightly wide but not too much. Probably f4 to 5.6 because I can seen some decent DOF behind the Barista.

  46. There’s a lot going on in this photo but I imagine it represents the actual scene – loud with all the different sounds from making coffee and the clinking of plates/cups and people chatting. I like how the out-of-focus bottles to the left are more vibrant and how your eyes are drawn from them to the hand then to the man’s face. It simplifies the scene a little from the chaos. Love how more vibrant and textured the gold machine is also.

  47. Thank you, David, for this very interesting exercise. I believe you chose the point of view and relatively shallow depth of field to highlight the barista at his craft. His focus is on his job with little attention to the other individual. Is that individual a customer or a server? The RAW image is flat and lifeless. By increasing saturation, clarity and warming the tones, you brought life into the scene. At first, I was puzzled by the clutter, but I think it represents the chaos and activity surrounding the barista in life as depicted in this story.

  48. Sorry if this is very harsh but you did ask 🙂

    The processing is way overdone to the point of unrealistic. There are 2 points of view: the hand with the coffee and the person and compositionally it doesn’t work. The out of focus stuff on the left side is distracting especially in the top left and would be better if the left side had been cropped and darkened down. The part of a plate on the bottom is also distracting so I would crop off the bottom to get rid of it. If the cup of coffee was placed on the ground a bit to the right of the mug behind it would have created a good leading line to the barista especially as it is a white mug. I would also crop the right side to get rid of the cloth or better I would have removed the cloth before taking the photo.

    The story here is about the barista so using a longer focal length and focussing on the subject more (but leaving enough of the surrounds to place him) would have worked far better. A wider aperture to lower the dof might also have helped a bit.

  49. I can feel the atmosphere of this café scene, almost as if I am there.
    I see the out of focus bottles on the left side first.
    Then, am drawn to the man’s face.
    The triangle of hands comes next and the connection between the one operating the machine, to the man’s other hand holding the container and then to the customer or waiter’s hand taking the coffee cup.
    I guess you just pressed AUTO in Develop in Lightroom or whatever editing software, as the vessels on the left have been brightened along with the rest of the image.

  50. I am neither sure about the image nor about the finished image. For me the main focus where the eye goes first is the face. So working on the face for better skin colours and more focus would be my approach as well. The rest of the RAW treatment you did looks like overdone for me. It puts too much emphasis on the color of the machine. And from a composition perspective I struggle with the arm coming in. something needs to be there, otherwise its snot balanced and boring at the same time, but despite of all the discussions about triangles the arm doesn’t do it for me. The guy is clearly looking at his hands and the new coffee he is making. The arm is distracting. And the pose of the arm is too much

  51. My guess would be shot with 50mm lens. Using the bottles on the left and the arm coming in from the right creating a frame for the upper 2/3, yet not disconnecting the rest of the image. It appears to my eye that there was contrast adjustment, maybe a bit of color enhancement and slight HDR treatment with some dodging and burning to direct the light and the eye towards the main action of the Barista and the server either taking or returning the coffee creating an interesting capture of what probably is just an ordinary moment in the day. I like the concentration in the face of the Barista, the breathe of liveliness, it almost makes me feel as if I were there.

  52. Fun exercise for a Sunday afternoon!
    First of all, when taking this photo my guess is that you wanted the three hands to be included as much as possible. They anchor the composition’s action right in the center. Initially, I did not love the distraction of the out-of-focus bottles on the left hand side, but I realized they helped to balance and guide my eye to what was happening in the photograph. The hint of yellow also worked with the gold of the coffee machine to frame your subject.

    Your post-processing definitely snapped the photo by warming up the image, possibly some light handed dehazing and clarity, and selective dodging/lightening the man’s face.

    I keep coming back to the hands and being able to see enough of the man pouring the liquid and making certain you had enough of his left hand to give it space.

  53. I like interaction like this! For me until now, you were “just” an author and great photographer in your books I red. This one-way communication by reading your words is of course great and has its own magic, thanks fo that!

    The image of man preparing Turkish coffee is great the way I looked at it with these questions in mind!

    For me, the mandatory things which made that image is work with:
    – awesome foreground! All the bar table is visible, viewer has immediately pure experience and atmosphere of this place!
    – great focus on the handmade work in action
    – post-processing made “copper” like coffee machine shines to the perfection and this is the warmest point of intent of the entire image

    Thanks for revealing of “What makes this image work?” This is the best bonus for me reading and interacting with your blogs.

  54. Before I comment on the photo- this is a great invitation to your website as discussed in Standing Room Only. I think the arm of the person holding the coffee almost mirrors the person making the coffee. The are both reaching on to hold a coffee. They are both leading lines. The Depth of field highlights the finished product and puts the barrista a little less prominent. The colors are complimentary blue/ orange-copper shades which work together very well. This was highlighted in the post processing. I believe you increased the clarity and saturation as well as increasing the blue/orange play. Also there is a very slight vignette.

  55. A little selective sharpening and light on the coffee man and you have an obvious story that was lacking in the raw image. The hand reaching into the scene is important to that story but secondary, so being slightly out of focus infers movement and needed the extra lighting. Also loved the triangle of hands that grounds the story around the coffee man and the coffee drinker

  56. Interesting photo. I like how you enhanced it. What caught my eye was the counter top ! If I didn’t know better I’d swear it’s the same quartzite top we have in our kitchen ! Impossible ??? A for the photo w/ one of the previous assessments that the picture is a complete story, from the barista to the server / customer grabbing the cup. For starters, I believe the an increase in exposure was required. The sparkle to the glass and elsewhere was a result of some enhanced highlights. Adjusting the white balance would have warmed the picture. Clarity & dehazeing would have sharpened and darkened the picture. Cool exercise, looking forward to the answer. Thank you.

  57. First the composition: I distinguish 3 triangles ,
    1) with the face of the barman-coffee machine-hand/cup,
    2) the three hands
    3) the face and the two hands of the barman (the subject)
    For the positioning, if we move to the right we hide one of the barman’s hands, if we move up the camera we make the barman lose importance (perspective)
    The speed to leave only the barman really clear (1/60 or 1/100).
    The aperture (f/2.8 or f/4) for a shallow depth of field, even the hand that takes the cup is slightly blurred.
    The focal length which allows to create a colored frame, souk’s atmosphere guaranteed (35 mm see less).
    In post-processing, increase of the global saturation (always souk’s atmosphere) some points more on the blacks, increase of the contrast.
    From France

  58. I like the photo because it is multilayered, on a one dimensional surface. Your eye needs to travel around the bottles and past the outstretched arm to find the object item, the banister, making coffee. The post production of adding light, or reducing the shadow on his face, helps to draw the eye to the center of the photo. The leading lines of the cabinet on the right of the photo assist with the eye being drawn to the center subject.

  59. What makes the image work:
    – Warmer temperature
    – Increased vibrance & saturation of colors
    – Increased contrast

    Decision/s you made while taking photo:
    – Focus & depth of photo included the barista AND the hand holding the cup; other elements were blurred.
    – The placement of the hand holding the cup — it’s in bottom third of photo

  60. Hi David, when looking to this photo I am drawn directly into the scene. Forground bottels, in the middle taking the coffee pot, behind the coffee maker and in the back the shelf. The pot of coffee is in the middle, so subject/storry ist very clear. Great composition!
    Regards Claudia

  61. Good afternoon and Happy Labor Day weekend to you. I wish I was as well-versed in photo editing as the previous participants, but I’m a practicing enthusiast, learning the trade late in life (I’m 53). I have a new photography business, replacing 25+ years as a Safety Director, which has given me a unique “eye” when shooting. I’m still learning Lightroom and a complete newbie in Photoshop, but this is what I see.

    It appears that (in Lr), you’ve raised the saturation by about 10 points, while increasing the warmth just a bit. I also see that the clarity (and sharpening?) was increased with a deeper “black”, but just a bit. I’m thinking the radial filter was used to adjust the hue in the shirt, bottles behind and hand in the foreground, so it would be at an angle, covering from 10 pm to 4 am as an angle. I have not experience with dodging and burning, but I think that was used as well.

    For me to accomplish that the quickest, I’d probably use my Cartoon filter and work my way back, but I’d love to know how to get there from start to finish without using filters at all.

    Thank you for allowing me to submit my entry.

  62. I loved this exercise I could see skin tones warmed and the wood more warm and saturated for me your point of view added mystery I wanted to know more about that arm reaching for coffee was the barista making another coffee for the same person perhaps he was with someone

  63. Is this a repeat exercise from earlier this year? Was this email sent in error?

    Rick

    1. I cannot comment objectively because we went through this image earlier! Wouldn’t be fair as I remember some of what David commented!

  64. You chose an aperture that put both the barista and the hand/cup in focus, while blurring the bottles in the left foreground. good choice. Shutter speed was just fast enough to stop motion. You could have chosen a slower shutter speed to show motion in the hands, but since the hand/cup are so prominent, you probably made the right choice. For POV you might have moved slightly to the left to include the barista’s shoulder and all the glasses on the tray. In post processing you have improved the saturation and contrast, added light to the barista’s face, and darkened the lower part of his clothing, all good choices. It enhances the connection between the hand/cup and the barista (face and hands operating the espresso machine), which is essential to the story. Good image.

  65. Hi David. First off, thanks for the article. The story of your cousin James reminded me a lot of me growing up. There were many moments making my mom cry as I quickly took apart gifts- like remote controlled cars to see how they worked. Nowadays, I’ve really enjoyed taking apart (and cleaning) vintage lenses- some to more success than others. As I’ve learned, properly reassembling 7-9 aperture blades is no joke!
    Regarding the photo, I’m first caught by both the natural light and compression. I’m thinking there was a large window (and potentially skylight above) on a bright, but overcast morning. The lens choice looks to be like an 85mm, and I’d think it’s at f/4 given the depth, but still with a closer perspective to the photo. Technically speaking, I really like the layers, and the hand with the espresso cup countered by the barista at the machine.
    For edits, I see that it was warmed up a bit, contrast was added, highlights we’re pushed on the arm and the barista for focus, blue was darkened & orange was saturated to draw the eye to the middle, and shadows/clarity were increased on the espresso machine. The result is an intimate and warm photo capturing the culture of that area.
    This was a fun exercise. Thanks!

  66. Composition is great and post processing in lightroom enhanced the clarity of the photo.

  67. Here are a few things I noticed:
    Increased saturation
    Increased clarity
    Darkened the bottles on left side to draw attention to the barista
    Not sure if you had someone pose with the cup or you waited for the moment.
    Loved this exercise!

  68. What you did in processing was to brighten, saturate and sharpen every thing in focus. You left the blurry bottles the same which directs your eye to the deeper part of your photo. So the light draws your eye first to the hand holding the cup in the foreground, then to the vender pouring the coffee and then to the cup being poured. I would have moved the camera so the blurry bottles weren’t there, but they really add depth to the photo and make you feel like you are seeing something that is partially hidden. That adds mystery. And I learned something from this photo. The blurry bottles are my lesson. Thanks. Now I will read others comments. :D:D

  69. The blurred bottles on the left and arm on the right draw the viewer to the focal points of the image: the coffee and the older man. Brightening these areas, in addition to the sharper focus, also makes them stand out. After lingering on these primary points of interest, the viewer can then explore other details, such as the machinery and dishes. Warmer tones coincide with the coffee and overall mood of the image.

  70. I think the image works because it tells a story in several ways. First, the position of the camera allows a view describing the context of the scene as a café. The focal point is the hands and they are placed in the center for emphasis. The older man making the coffee is in the background while the product of his work, in the form of finished coffee, is in the foreground directly under his hands. This seems to imply time because you have process and product in the same place but in a slightly different sequence. The older man’s gray coat with black collar is reversed in the sleeve of the person in the foreground which may speak to age, but certainly it is complementary. Finally, the colors seem to be enhanced, along with clarity in the final image giving everything a bit of a golden sparkle.

  71. To me, what makes this work is lots of small, local adjustments to exposure and contrast enhancing the great composition of all of the hands/arms leading to the coffee pour in the middle of the image.

  72. The photo has layers of story enhanced through perspective, framing, movement, light, and editing. Viewers respond and relate to the everyday scene because ordering coffee from a barista is a universal theme. An individual can sip a cup in Istanbul or Portland, Oregon.

  73. In composition you’ve used the bottles on the left as a framing device. (Interesting, there’s no corresponding symmetrical device on the other side.) In the raw file the hand taking the coffee is more prominent than the barista, who looks soft focus. So although I think you’re trying to tell a story about the connection between the barista preparing the coffee and the customer taking it, that doesn’t quite work in the raw file. It needs the contrast and sharpening in the finished image to do that. And in doing so, it adds punch and life to the image, to the point that it almost takes on a cartoon-like quality. At the very least the final image has the feel of an artist who draws or paints. I think you may have saturated slightly beyond what would have been seen originally in natural light, but I do not mean that as a criticism: it’s something I do, because I am a glasses-wearer who uses photochromic lenses and therefore sees the world in colours that bit more saturated than most people.

  74. Alchemy!
    The alchemy of this characterful barista plying his trade, enlivened by your editing skills
    The achemy of a steaming cup of coffee that works magic on our moods, which we can almost taste, smell, feel after your editing
    The alchemy of you, your camera and this fleeting moment raised to art through editing
    And
    The alchemy of that gleaming, copper machine revealed as vibrant, beautiful, interesting and stealing centre-stage suddenly through editing

  75. First, you have a very natural eye. Most people including me are technical not natural. The image works because you lead us to the face. The light and focus leads us the spot. The coloring is very pleasant to the eye. Then we are lead to a left to right downward view. With focus and color. They photo is busy with lots of detail to review. Over all it’s just very pleasant to look at, it’s the type of photo you can see over and over to see more detail.

  76. In the unprocessed file your eye tends to wander somewhat as the subject does not tend to stand out. In the proceeded file the edited subject now pops and your eye goes to him and wanders less. The bottles on the left help frame the image.

  77. The image tells a story. The hand on the right reaching into the frame leads your eye to the barista. The soft focus items on the left make it mysterious as if one is peering into the image. The religion of colour all adds to the story and leads your eye around the image.

  78. I think the truly impressive & impactful techniques of this image is composition stacking. Starting with the blurred foreground of the bells & jars, mid ground action of the arm & cup and focus on the barista’s face in the background. The line of cups directly leads into the action of the story. The barista’s face is framed on each side by bells and the coffee machine yet leaves a direct line of sight to the subject (spotlighted with stepping stones of light on countertop, hand, arm then face). The repetitive pattern of round trays, plates & bells adds interest besides setting the scene of the story. For a complex and cluttered scene it is amazingly forthright example of storytelling.

  79. The barista and his expresso machine are centrally located. Your eye is drawn to the saturation, contrast and bright tones of the the vented portion of the machine. These qualities have been enhanced by your processing. The white towel is also brightened to help draw your eyes in that direction. The bright highlights on the side of his head, hair and arm draw you the rest of the way into the scene coming to rest on the barista. I also think your mind wants to escape the natural clutter that frames him. He is a point of visual escape from the clutter of the surrounding scene. That is further aided by us being naturally drawn to want to see what he is doing. The scene in total has been adjusted in tone and color to make it visually appealing rather than the flat tonal representation of the raw image. All of these things combine to make a visually appealing image that guides the viewer to the barista and his actions.

  80. I like the raw image better, it’s softer on the eye and less artificial looking.

  81. This image tells a story effectively because the subject’s face has been lightened and draws you in. The coffee seller is framed with the bottles on the left and his machine on the right.

    The depth of field has blurred the bottles a lot and the hand in front. The seller’s face is sharp and also the details of the coffee maker are too. Contrast and texture has been added there. The colors also are more vibrant than the RAW file.

    There is foreground, middle ground, and background yet the subject is clear.

    The hand in front has been lightened and is more vibrant also, which draw your eye there. Contrast has been added .

    My eye goes first to the man making coffee then to the hand.

    The point of view is lower by the bottles which is interesting, so we look up to the subject.

    You wouldn’t believe English is my first language, but it is. Not a fan of writing but I am a fan of your work!

  82. In camera – framing with the bottles and other items around the barista. Moderately shallow depth of field to help keep the man as the main item of interest. Captured the arm but cut off the person, gives context to the photo and makes the viewer wonder about that other person, adds a bit of mystique. Perspective – taken from lower than standing height, whether mimicking eye-level when sitting at a cafe table or just from counter height looking up. Shutter speed fast enough to prevent blur of the arm and also to freeze the steam. High enough ISO to still capture details is the shadows but not so high that excessive noise would be a problem.

    In Post – brightened shadows of the man, looks like increased saturation as well, darkened the highlights of the bottles behind his head again to create the man as the main point of interest. Increased contrast, whether with a filter or by playing with the s-curve I’m not sure. My opinion the man’s face and the towel became a bit “HDR-crunchy” – too much sharpening?.

  83. What makes this photo work?

    A little contrast, vibrance and a little sharpening.

  84. I just found your blog and am impressed with the content!
    What a wonderful exercise, and what a concept… to help stimulate thinking through the process.
    The other comments made here are fantastic… leaving little for me to add.
    I am also reading a reading recommendation you made: Think Again by Adam Grant which I believe encourages us to examine our world, both internally and externally more thoughtfully.

  85. The composition directs your sight to the barista, the framing elements relate to the subject. The arm keeps you eye in the photo and adds a sense of action. Edits include increase of saturation, contrast , clarity , with some added dodging and burning.

  86. At first, I’m drawn to the man making the coffee. The framing within the image, the fact that the bottles in the foreground are out of focus, and the way he’s been brightened all help draw my eye to the man. The longer I look, though, his gaze (emphasized by the position of the camera), as well as the way the machine’s metallic coloring has been boosted, eventually draw my eye to the hand lifting the coffee cup. Incorporating that hand and cup tells a story. Removing that element would remove a sense of action, as well as the relationship between the coffee being made and those outside the frame waiting to receive it. I also think the framing and camera location emphasize a sense of clutter—there’s a lot going on, a lot of items and things to look at. And yet, it’s contrasted with the focus and calm in the man’s face, his almost single-minded focus on this one cup of coffee in and amidst all these other items and activity. It really centers the image and conveys the sense of calm that can come from enjoying a cup of coffee.

  87. First, choosing to include the bottles in left foreground gives additional depth to the image. Being out of the field of focus and apparently burned a bit, they do not draw the eye from the subject, however. Your position between the hand holding the coffee cup and the barista’s face gives fairly equal weight to both. However, the barista is in better focus, which draws my eye in that direction. Counterbalancing that is the dodging on the hand and cup, which brings the eye back there. Also, the weight of the bottles on the left is balanced by the espresso machine on the right. The composition tells the story of a barista brewing and serving at a busy time, with one cup being taken, one waiting, and one underway, framed by the tools of his trade. There is no need for a slow shutter speed to show the action.

    My eye starts at the barista’s face and moves down and slightly diagonally to the right, to the copper pitcher, and to the hand and coffee cups. Increasing the saturation and contrast give it a somewhat graphical style, which was obviously the artist’s choice. Color is important in this image, in terms of giving it depth and in the separation of the elements. Boosting the yellows and reds brought the bottle tops, copper pitcher, coffee in the cups, and the espresso machine into harmony. The two small areas of red – the jar lids on the shelf and the decorations on the plates – are a little icing on the cake as one continues to explore the image.

    I might have made the personal choice to decrease the saturation and/or burn the vent panel on the espresso machine (in the center of the picture) as its brightness and saturation draw my eye to it, and I would not choose to make that a focal point of the image.

  88. Great exercise! Great image!

    In my opinion, you used an aperture that provided the focus to be in the barista and the hand reaching out to the counter. The left part of your image is out of focus, and this make my eyes go directly to the barista’s hands – the image conveys a lot of movement and action from both the barista and the customer which hand is reaching out with a cup.

    The angle and the light made me perceive the action immediately, no distractions, even though the image is rich in details.

    Post processing probably involved upping the brightness, saturation a bit, clarity and contrast.

    I would love to see the video, I am a nubby and learning from you, the professionals. Thank you for the opportunity.

  89. I am a beginner, so forgive me if the vocabulary I use is not technical and specific.Photography is only a hobby for me.

    My eyes go to the hand of the basista, where the action is. In my opinion, you used as aperture that provided the focus to be in the barista and the hand reaching out to the counter. The left part of the image is out of focus, which directed my eye to the scene itself, without distraction. The light or the angle you chose to use makes it more interesting. In post-processing you probably increased contrast, brightness, clarity, and saturation, making the image more appealing.

  90. I am a beginner, so forgive me if the vocabulary I use is not technical and specific.Photography is only a hobby for me.

    In my opinion, you used as aperture that provided the focus to be in the barista and the hand reaching out to the counter. The left part of the image is out of focus, which directed my eye to the scene itself, without distraction. The light or the angle you chose to use makes it more interesting. In post-processing you probably increased contrast, brightness, clarity, and saturation, making the image more appealing.

  91. I am thinking, by the form you introduced the conversation, most of this photo was intentional and not a point and shoot and capture whatever is in front of the camera. So, trying to “dismantle” by layers as you suggested:
    1) I can see your big frame tried to show the whole environment of a traditional café in an old city (I would bet it is somewhere in Turkey). It shows the equipment, bottles and coffee cups. As a secondary frame, you left them out of in focus depth of field, so you had the in the frame, but not to call too much attention, directing the eyes to the guy preparing the café.
    2) Your main subject is clearly the guy preparing the café behind the machine, mostly by his expression, something between serious and cautious of his job. It is the man and his machine doing his work in the environment (of the big frame), something that in some way makes think of his history doing it for years. It reminds something done carefully, like a ritual. The focus in this part directs the look to it. This is the main part of the picture.
    3) The arm taking the coffee cup gives an idea of movement, of a different part of the café that is more dynamic, less traditional or ritualistic as it is the preparation of that same coffee being served. For sure, it is not incidental, it is there to create a separation of the main part of the image, where the elder man prepares the coffee.
    I guess it is all you tried to show in this photo.

  92. Sorry, duplicated as a reply to Susan Aune

    The key elements in the image are the barista, the Turkish coffee pot and the hand holding the coffee cup. There is a strong connection between making the coffee and serving it which provides the background story. By lifting both the shadows and the highlights the RAW image is given some life. I don’t see much differential processing to add drama.

    Personally I feel a tighter crop on both the left and right to 8 x10 to eliminate some of the coffee machine and the out of focus area in the left foreground would strengthen a fine image.

  93. The composition of the photograph is such that the “window” draws the viewer to and connects the coffee cup and barista. Looks to me that in post processing the following were increased: contrast, saturation, and sharpening.

  94. Recently read your book Within the Frame and your methodology and philosophy have resonated and intrigued me to learn & hear more from you.

    Nice to read and contemplate the thoughts of others interpreting your image.

    To me the image works because it conveys a story familiar to most of us yet so specific to a location that is probably unfamiliar to most of us.

    The image achieves this with simplicity of composition, foreground directing the eye to mid ground and onto back ground detailing the plot of a morning cup of coffee. At the same time leaving out cluttering detail such as the person taking the coffee provides a sense of mystery allowing the viewer to make up their story line to the image.

    This is why the image is so familiar to us even though it may have taken in an exotic location (for me anyway).

    Post processing accentuating the light, colour & contrast compliments the photographers vision of guiding the viewer through the image or story.

  95. I think this is an excellent challenge. A great way to learn and a skill that is difficult to practice. But, to be honest, the real reason I am taking the challenge is because of episode 62. Sometimes I am so fearful of making a fool of myself, I do nothing. Which is no way to learn and often lonely. So here goes.

    My impression is that the camera is further back and low. Starting at the level of the counter allows us to travel in and up through the shop. The aperture is small for a long depth of field which allows both the barista (is that what a Turkish coffee maker is called?) and the hand taking the espresso to be in focus. Having the hand and cup there makes the scene more dynamic, giving context and action that would be missing if the eye went straight for the man from eye height. The espresso cup, hand, and pot line up magically leading us in and up ultimately to rest on the man’s face. His concentrated downward gaze returns to the same pot (maybe creating a circle of attention between his face and the pot?). The focus is in the middle distance so the foreground remains slightly blurred, which allows the elements of the shop to give context but not detract or prevent the eye from travelling into the scene. The brightness, contrast and vibrance have been brought up in the center around the man and the machine while the brightness and saturation in the background (especially the light on the jars and shelves) has been brought down to focus the attention again on the central character. The facial shadows may have been lightened(?) to enhance the character of his face and confirm the focus on him. These changes also bring the steam into greater detail which adds to the action, making the scene pop and become more alive.

    Okay, now maybe I will go learn from the other comments. Thank you for the opportunity.

  96. The hands line up and lead to the barista’s face. Yellows look highlighted and overall image looks lighter and brighter. Barista face is in focus.

    1. The key elements in the image are the barista, the Turkish coffee pot and the hand holding the coffee cup. There is a strong connection between making the coffee and serving it which provides the background story. By lifting both the shadows and the highlights the RAW image is given some life. I don’t see much differential processing to add drama.

      Personally I feel a tighter crop on both the left and right to 8 x10 to eliminate some of the coffee machine and the out of focus area in the left foreground would strengthen a fine image.

  97. In both pictures my eye is attracted to the barista and the coffe ready to be served but the way you highlighted those two key points, with clarity and saturation, making the sunlight much more present on the face, the hand and the equipment now makes me want to drink this coffee! I almost can smell it! It’s hot and i just know I’m heading to a great day!

  98. This image shows very vivacious moment of daily coffee business: the coffee machine, the served man, cups and plates, one ready coffee just hold from somebody. The colors are brighter and stronger to underline the details of coffee’s life.
    I think it’s shutter speed 1(160 and focal length 35mm. The picture is full of details and stronger saturation of some brown elements underline them and matching the subject of coffee. It’s very good storytelling of making coffee: the right moment, the right colors.

  99. I’m sitting waiting for my coffee at a busy counter. I hear the steam, smell the coffee in the cup passing by me.

    Every part of the image slowly draws my eye through the story to the man making the coffee.

    I start on the left side, hit the hand with the coffee and on to the barista. This is accomplished through brightening the important elements of the image. I also see overall sharpening and saturation boosts. The camera angle puts me in the scene as a participant.

  100. I think you used a moderately small aperture to capture the near hand and far barista both reasonably sharp, and a moderately fast shutter speed to freeze the (slowish) motion in both subjects. Depending on the light intensity, this might have required an ISO greater than 200.
    In Camera Raw, I suspect you’ve upped the ‘Clarity’ to boost contrast and sharpness, and also the ‘Vibrance’ to boost saturation on all but skin-tones.
    It’s possible you also dodged to highlight the hand taking the coffee, which to me is the wrong decision because I think the barista is the primary subject – the hand taking the coffee just helps ‘set the scene’.
    Just my amateur 2¢ worth!

  101. Interesting Photo!
    The photo is brighter, and the viewer’s eye is drawn to the cup of coffee by the placement of the lens- it is angled a bit downward or perhaps it is by the framing of the hand and the lighting from the side- it hits the cup, the top of the side of the hand, the side of the man’s face, and his hair, it also hits the side of the jars at the foreground of the photo to the left side.

    The arm on the right brings you into the photo as a directional line as does the electrical box, with it lines. Those lines also “line” up with the stacks of dishes and the lines on the caps of the jars in the forefront. These are extremely pleasing to the eye.—at least to mine.

    Perhaps you have bumped up the contrast up a bit, to add to the contrast of the copper texture of the coffee machine and the copper espresso cup he is filling. And the table upon which everything lies. Actually, all the metal in the photo.

    There is not a lot of color in the photo, but the pops of red and yellow add just a bit of interest. It would have been too plain for me in black and white.

    The way the photo is lit makes me think end of the day, after a long day out with the camera, time for a cup of coffee. Make it strong, so I can take more photos.

  102. I am a debutant in this kind of exercise. First the initial RAW file: I see a fairly “flat” and uniform scene, soft light, little relief. We lose the subject. The second after retouching is more aggressive, incisive. The light is more gross and the strong point of the image, the man who prepares the beverage, is tailored to the knife. His physiognomy is much better defined and attracts the eye. It is better illuminated and highlighted. The contrast is strong in this image which seems to me give it more depth and life. And more interesting.

  103. This image is a feast for the eyes— So much to see over and over.

    I asked myself (to take the image apart) if I was going to make images in a Turkish coffee house; how could I convey what hot Turkish coffee smells like? What does this place feel like? How can I show the viewer “Hot?” How can I show “Motion” in order to convey a busy business where all the staff are moving as fast as they can to serve the customer? How do I do all the above in a two-dimensional photo?

    By showing texture and detail (depth of field & sharpening) in the copper coffee machine, the counter-top, and all the details from the hanging cups in the background, to the plates and saucers next to the coffee machine, you give the viewer a sense of tight, small working space where the waiter and the coffee maker are working non-stop. This is enhanced by the waiter’s arm slightly blurred while he grabs the cup of coffee showing motion (working fast) that also reinforces “hot” “fresh” coffee. This is also enhanced by the steam rising up from the coffee maker pouring what looks like hot water into a copper Turkish coffee pot. Even the coffee maker’s hair is sharp…detail. If you had used a shallow depth of field, all the details and textures back to front would be lost. That might work if you had done shallow depth of field and made the image of just the coffee maker’s hands and the steam, but then you would have a very different image.

    The light, and direction of the light give the viewer a sense that it is morning, there are no harsh shadows (contrast). The color also adds to the warmth and feeling of comfort. I suspect this image would also look great in black and white, but it would really loose a lot for me. The warm brown on the foam of the cup that the waiter is picking up and the warm copper colors along with the light really bring this image a feeling of warm, comforting kind of place. It could be a hectic place, but still warm and comforting.

    My Guesses:
    You wanted to show place/environment. You used enough depth of field, and details of plates, saucers, cups, machine, counter to get the viewer to see.
    You wanted to show what Jay Maisel calls “Gesture.” You used the steam, the waiter’s motion picking up the hot cup of coffee, the color of the coffee, the copper machine, the warm light, the expression of the coffee man’s face.
    To do 1 & 2 above, you would use an f/stop with enough DOF so the viewer can see all the details, or at least make them out and let the mind fill in the blanks, and a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the expression of the man’s face, but still show the waiter’s arm movement picking up the cup. If it was dark inside, you used an ISO high enough to get the shutter speed and f/stop you wanted to use

  104. Thank you for this excercise! I like this photo a lot, so many elements which are linked together.

    When I look at your raw file, which I like a lot, I see as the first thing a man holding something and pouring water, I then see a hand holding a cup of freshly poured coffee. Then i see the machine and understand it’s a way of making coffee in Turkey or so. I then see the dishes, and some bottles which are out of focus.
    When I look at the adjusted image, at first I look at the yellow “glowing” machine, then I look at the man pouring the water and then I look at the hand which is in the centre.
    So maybe my sequence is not the usual one, but this is what happened.

    I see the difference between the two pictures, you lit up the man who is the central figure, and he is sharper and has more contrast, the hand and the machine are lighter as well, and the machine is more in focus because of the beautiful powerful copper colour it has.

    However (sorry to say this!!) I like the soft tone of your original photo better than the high contrast in the second one. It’s great that you put more light on the man and the hand, but the machine takes a lot more my attention in the second photo, my eyes go straight to the bright yellow surface, I am not sure you wanted this.

    I am curious about your answer and those of the others (which I did not read yet, on purpose).

  105. The most amazing thing to me is that this is a moment in time and not staged and yet the viewers who have commented can see so much that works. In taking such a photo a photographer often has only moments to consider what choices to make in composition and exposure. One may take much more time in making decisions in post processing. For me the lure of photography is in capturing the moment, the story, and editing is an enhancement of what has been captured.

  106. What makes this image work is that it naturally conveys the making and delivery of a nice cup of coffee… Possibly prepared by the same man all day long, with focus, precision and hard labor, and instantly picked up… by anyone of us.
    You chose a zoom lens, a relatively large aperture enabling to isolate the subject – the man preparing the coffee, and a fast shutter speed to freeze the action – you managed to chose the perfect moment that displays both preparation and pick up. It seems you managed a nice compromise on the ISO as we cant identify any apparent noise in the RAW file.
    You then sharpened, increased light, pump up shadows etc in the darkroom on pretty much the entire image except the arm picking the cup of coffee. All together this enables to emphasize the hard work, feel the atmosphere of the place, with a balanced light across both the main subject and the hand/cup of coffee picked up – all becomes part of the same story.

  107. Framing, leading lines, saturation of certain elements, lighting, vignette, and depth of field all lead the eye through the center of the photo to the man preparing the coffee. Excellent story telling photograph!

  108. Your image captures the activity and sensory experience of a busy coffee shop. The focus is on the man and the cup with an implicit diagonal line between his face and the cup, mirrored by the bottle tops on the left and the rag on the right. There is a really nice balance between lights and darks.

    In post-process I noticed you made several changes, raising the photograph from interesting to beautiful.
    – sharpened and enhanced color on man and waiter’s arm
    – enhanced color on foreground bottles
    – changed the overall tint from bluish to yellow-orange

  109. The focal point of the photo is the cup, then your eyes continue into the depth of the photo taking you to the man preparing another cup. To give more emphasis to the cup and the hand holding it, it appears you increased contrast and saturation as the hand holding the cup appears with more contrast (is less soft) and his skin has more color and the shadow on the right side of the cup is stronger (but this could have resulted from increasing the overall saturation and contrast in the photo as discussed later). To give more emphasis to the man making another cup, it appears you brightened up his right collar and the right side of his face and removed some of the shadow in his face. You also added more clarity/sharpness to his hair and face as the final image shows more wrinkles on his forehead, bags under his eyes, and more greased strips of hair giving the impression that he’s been tirelessly at this job for a long time. It appears you also increased the saturation of the overall image as the speckled marble counter, the clothing of both men, and the bronze/copper coffee maker are richer in color, which adds more pop. I think this was a good choice since coffee is known for giving people a jolt (that is, the original photo seemed too soft for this scene). It appears you also increased the contrast and sharpness/clarity of the overall photo. This helped bring out more texture in the coffee maker and clarity in its lettering. You can also see more contrast in the pile of plates, the towel, etc. I think this really helped especially for the towel which was more of a distraction in the RAW file because it was soft and in need of a burn down. The increased clarity/sharpness also gives the viewer’s eyes more to look at — to wander around the photo.

  110. In my point of view you wanted, by your strong composition, to directly and efficiently lead the eye of the viewer of your photo onto your main subject, the coffee maker/seller. To achieve this goal and to also give your image more depth and more strength, you used a wide angle lens that made the framing of your subject even stronger. So the main leading line, the arm of the buyer getting his coffee, gets relatively bigger, as well as the coffee equipment, and the green recipient on the left that all contribute to funnel the vision of the viewer, by also setting strong limits that prevent him from gazing elsewhere. Then in post you gave more light to the coffee seller so him to stand out more in the picture as the main subject. And added some, but less, of it, to his equipment on the right and to the green pot on the left to make them more powerful to funnel even more efficiently the vision of the viewer of your strong and beautiful reportage photo, as well as made right at “the decisive moment”.

  111. What works is the framing, layers, depth, light crystallizing, action, story, and drawing the viewer to a place, time, and action. The story of making and then the progression and anticipation of the delivery of a great cup of coffee. The picture is static in sharpness but leads the mind on an imaginative journey and as if the coffee were coming our way. I can smell it.

  112. In shooting the photo you decided to focus in such a way as to get the hand holding the cup and the man pouring the coffee as the focal point of your photo and in fact tunneling the viewer to this “picture” or focal point. Not knowing the amount of light you were working with i am assuming that you selected an f stop that would give you maximum depth of field for your point of focus and shutter speed that would both freeze any motion (as the water even looks good) and give you the depth. If I were taking this photo there is not a thing I would have changed in composition as it tells the story one wants. If you had moved a bit to the right you might have cut out the second bottle a bit more as it is a bit distracting or maybe you could have removed both wine bottles by adjusting position just a bit, I would not have however. In the digital darkroom you dehazed the photo a bit, sharpened it to bring out detail perhaps using a mask to bring out detail on the face, as there is software that allows one to use focal point masks for such purposes and you darkened the photo a bit. What I might have done different is to use a vignette or edge darkening on the left or cropped in a bit on the left to get that second bottle. The whole goal of this scene is to use the hand holding the cup to draw the viewer to the man making the coffee so all of the post processing focused on this “tunneling of the image” . My guess is using focal point masking to nudge the image.

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